Campus Officials, Union Approve New Postdoc Contract

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University of California officials and a union representing more than 6,500 of the university's top researchers reached a tentative contract agreement early Saturday morning, nearly 18 months after negotiations between the two groups began.

The agreement was signed at the end of a marathon 16-hour bargaining session that began at 9 a.m. Friday morning and continued into the predawn hours early the next morning. By the time it was over, both sides had agreed on all 35 items on the table, including the final four contentious items: health benefits, wages, the right to strike and appointment security.

Details of the agreement will not be made public until after the union votes to ratify the contract, though Norval Hickman, a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Francisco and member of the bargaining team, said the contract represents a "significant improvement" over past proposals.

"We didn't get 100 percent of everything that we wanted; we had to make some difficult decisions in the end," said Matthew O'Connor, a former bioengineering researcher at UC Berkeley who represented the campus on the union's bargaining team. "All in all, I think it's a very strong contract. It includes very strong economic improvements."

The contract is the first standalone agreement between the UC and postdoctoral workers, according to UC spokesperson Steve Montiel. Though some postdoctoral workers have union contracts in Connecticut and New Jersey, the agreements are part of a larger staff-wide contract.

"The university is pleased that there's an initial agreement," Montiel said in an e-mail. "Postdoctoral scholars are very important to UC and the research enterprise."

Postdoctoral researchers - who represent about 10 percent of all postdoctoral researchers in the country, according to Montiel - conduct a large potion of the UC's research.

The researchers voted to unionize in August of 2008, though the union was not officially recognized by the California Labor Board until two months later, and formal negotiations between the union and the UC did not begin until February of 2009.

Over the last 18 months of negotiations, the two groups grappled with the 35 items and negotiations eventually hit a dead end, triggering a congressional hearing by the House Committee on Education and Labor in April to examine the sluggish process.

In June, the union filed charges saying the UC committed 13 violations of the state's Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act over the course of the negotiations, including regressive bargaining, failing to provide requested information and misrepresenting university policy. Those charges are still pending, according to Hickman.

Union members across the 10 campuses will begin voting on the contract Thursday, with polls closing next Wednesday. Until then, researchers will send out information and hold meetings to discuss details of the contract with thousands of workers.

Hickman and O'Connor both said they feel confident the union will approve the contract.

"We did succeed in getting an experienced-based pay scale, a minimum pay scale for postdocs, including yearly pay increases," O'Connor said. "Our members have fought really long for this, and while the agreement we came to isn't perfect, it is really good."


Javier Panzar is the news editor. Contact him at [email protected]

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